Banning the Bomb


There is a terrible irony in the fact that America's top military brass are meeting in Nebraska to discuss how to allow the military to use atomic weapons just as the peace movement is gearing up to mark the moment 58 years ago when two bombs fell on Japan.

"I think the fact that President George Bush wants to use nuclear weapons in frightening," said Rev. Bill Henkel.

His church is part of a nationwide peace moment that will protest the concept through education. At about 4 p.m. on Aug. 9, Ryuma Miyanaga and Eiji Nakanizhi, two survivors of the Hiroshima blast in Japan in 1945, planned to visit the First Reformed Church as part of the church's plans to dedicate a "peace pole" and peace garden.

A peace pole is a hand-crafted monument that displays the message and prayer: "May peace prevail on Earth" on each of its four sides.

There are more than 200,000 peace poles in 180 countries around the world, and these serve as constant reminders for people to visualize and pray for peace.


"We have chosen the date in remembrance of the victims of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, and as a reminder that the threat of nuclear warfare remains as clear and present danger today," said Henkel in his promotion of the event.

Miyanaga and Nakanishi are members of a fading group known as the Hibakusha.

The Hibakusha has a special place in the Japanese peace movement because they are eye-witnesses to the devastating impact atomic bombs have on human beings. They often speak with great urgency partly because their numbers are rapidly vanishing, and with them, the only living history of what it is like to be on ground zero when an atomic bomb is dropped.

"You will be so moved by the stories of the Hibakusha that you will never again think about nuclear weapons in the same way," said Madelyn Hoffman, director of New Jersey Peace Action out of Montclair, one of the groups that has brought Miyanaga and Nakanizhi to New Jersey to speak. "Their visit is very timely this year as the Bush Administration continues lobbying for the development of new nuclear weapons and for first-strike capability utilizing nuclear weapons."

Presently, the United States Strategic Command is meeting to discuss President Bush's plans for the new generation of nuclear weapons, ones that can be more readily used in the field to attack deeply constructed enemy bunkers. While the Bush Administration has defended the idea as a deterrent - saying that if terrorist groups and hostile nations know the United States has weapons that can reach these bunkers, such enemies will be reluctant to build costly bunkers. In other words, the United States would not have to actually use the weapons.

Peace groups, however, feel that by lowering the barriers for use of these weapons, the risk of nuclear war is that much greater - especially because many countries that currently own nuclear weapons would use them rather than conventional weapons. These peace groups contend that use by the United States would give other countries the license to use them also.


Two survivors come to Secaucus


Ryuma Miyanaga, 73, was employed at a shipyard 3.5 kilometers from the center of the Hiroshima blast on Aug. 6, 1945. In the afternoon after the initial blast, he entered the city to help in relief efforts.

Eiji Nakanishi, 61, was 3 years old when the bomb fell on Hiroshima. He was playing outside his house, about 2.5 kilometers from the blast. Although his house was mostly destroyed, he and his family survived.

In 1987, a video tape was made of the survivors, which recounted some of the stories that Secaucus residents can expect to hear at the First Reform Church. More than 320,000 people suffered through the August, 1945 blast, and of these, between 130,000 and 150,000 died of burns or radiation poisoning.

It is important to remember that Hiroshima, at the time of the attack, was a military center and the site of munitions factories. Although urged not to drop the bomb by many of the scientists who helped create it, the United States government under President Harry Truman decided it would help end the war more quickly, saving lives of American soldiers who would have to invade Japan to obtain surrender.

People expected an attack and were in the middle of demolishing buildings to create fire breaks so as to keep the city from being swept away by flames if the United States used conventional bombs, as had been done in other cities such as Tokyo.


Eyewitness accounts


Although Miyanaga and Nakanizhi were not available for interviews by press time, and no published accounts of their particular stories were available, many victims were interviewed for a 1987 video, detailing what they saw and felt.

On the morning of August 6, 1945 at roughly 8:15 a.m., a tremendous flash of light appeared at the center of Hiroshima, marking the first wartime use of an atomic bomb. The device was nicknamed "Little Boy" and its brother, dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, "Fat Man."

Hiroshima, a medium-sized fishing city in Japan, expected an attack but strangely had not been targeted by traditional raids, despite the city's importance as a military supply center.

Within seconds of the flash, a shock wave rushed through the city, knocking down people and buildings. The fire created by the blast lasted for hours, often breaking out into tornado-like columns that continued to dance through the city.

Everywhere, people died, some immediately hit by the blast, some more slowly as a result of burns, others over weeks and months as a result of the radiation.

Slightly before the blast hit, witnesses said an air raid warning went through the city of Hiroshima. Then, 14-year old Akihiro Takahashi was standing outside his junior high school when he saw a plane.

"We saw a B-29 approaching and flying over us," he said. "All of us were looking up at the sky pointing out the aircraft. That was the moment when the blast came, and then the tremendous noise came and we were left in the dark."

He was picked up and thrown by the blast. When he managed to get up, he saw a devastated city. "Everything collapsed for as far as I could see," he said.

Witnesses' accounts recalled a metallic like light flashing across the sky.

"It was not a big flash," said Isao Kita, who worked for the Hiroshima Weather Bureau 3.7 km from the center. "But still it drew my attention. In a few seconds, the heat wave arrived. After I noticed the flash, white clouds spread over the blue sky. Then came the heat wave. It was very hot. It was as if I was looking directly into a kitchen oven."

Akira Onogi, a student at the time, said, "I saw a blue flash of light just like a spark made by a train or some kind of circuit. Next, a steam-like blast came."

Survivors often call the atomic blast Pika-don, or "spark and bang."

"Outside, it suddenly turned bright red," said Hiroshi Sawachika, an army doctor who was 4.1 kilometers from the blast. "I felt very hot on my cheeks."

The sound followed the light. Flames fell from the sky. Water pipes exploded. The air was so thick with smoke most people struggled to breathe.

"I smelled something like sulfur," said Taeko Teramae, a telephone operator who was less than a half kilometer from the blast. "It smelled something like the volcano, Mt. Aso, and I threw up."

Takehiko Sakai said, "It was stifling. The heat was terrible. I took a deep breath and then mud and sand was sucked into my mouth."


Flame and destruction everywhere


Nearly everyone was knocked down, furniture thrown across rooms, glass exploding from windows, leaving many cut or killed. Those further from the blast site actually saw a mushroom cloud.

Yosaku Mikami, a firefighter located 1.9 kilometers from the blast center, said fire was everywhere and the sky was dull as if covered by clouds.

"The electric light poles burned down," he said. "We heard many people swearing, screaming, shouting, asking for help."

He and other firefighters tried to place the injured on firetrucks. "But this was difficult because their skin peeled off as we tried to move them," he said.

Many rescuers died within a few months, of radiation poisoning.

Most were badly burned, and smelled liked cooked squid. Doctors lacking the medicines needed for treating even ordinary burns used peanut oil, water and bandages. Other doctors reported having only mercurochrome.

Most of those who survived were naked because the blast had burned off their clothing. Many bringing people to seek medical help carried others on their shoulders.

"It was like a big tornado of fire," said Akiko Takakura, a worker at a bank that was 300 meters from the center of the explosion. Takakura is the closest known survivor. "It was just like a living hell."

Then came the black rain. It stuck to everything. When it fell on trees and leaves, it turned them black. When it touched people's clothing, the clothing turned black. When it touched flesh, it remained and could not be washed off.

The rain would not extinguish the flame.

Many of the still-living people were crying out for their mothers, said Kinue Tomoyasu, who had come into the city after the blast to search for her daughter.

"Hands were trying to grab my ankles," said Yoshtaka Kawamoto, who was 13 at the time. "They were asking me to take them along. I was horrified that so many hands were trying to grab me."


River full of bodies and debris


Many people fled to the river. It was thick with debris: pillars, beams and pieces of furniture. It was also filled with floating bodies. Wounded people bathed on either side, trying to wash away the pain of their burns, using whatever clothing they could find for bandages.

Hiroko Fukada, one kilometer from the blast, said she was pushed to the river by the masses of people, and tried to swim to the other side.

"I was suddenly spun around by the current," she said in the video. "Large pieces of hail began to fall and my face started hurting. The water was swirling around me, and later I learned that it was a tornado."

Later, many people's hair began to fall out and their skin began to show purple spots. Some suffered high fevers and died.

But those called the Hibakusha survived to tell their stories about the horror.

The First Reform Church is located at Centre Avenue and Post Place.



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